IDS calls for MPs to oppose government on Trade Bill amendment

Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith

Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith - Credit: BBC

MPs can “send a signal” to China and “give hope” to victims of human rights abuses by supporting a House of Lords amendment to the post-Brexit Trade Bill, a former Conservatives leader said.

The government will seek in the Commons to overturn the amendment which would limit its ability to strike agreements with countries involved in the most serious human rights abuse.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith joined the voices of senior Tories who have called for relations with China to be cooled, despite the prime minister’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development and post-Brexit foreign policy published last week calling for a “positive trade and investment relationship” with Beijing in the run-up to 2030.

“The report refers to China as a competitor, when I believe it is, in reality, a growing threat, not just to the UK but to the free world itself,” Sir Iain wrote in The Times.

The former opposition leader said it would be timely for Britain to work with the new administration in Washington and other allies in dealing with Beijing.

“A good place to start would be in passing the Lords amendment today, to send a signal not just to the Chinese government but to those who labour under this terrible oppression that the free world recognises their struggle,” Sir Iain wrote.

“Genocide is the crime of all crimes and the UK must offer a beacon of hope to those who suffer.”

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It comes a day after Labour appealed to Tory MPs to defy the whips and back the amendment and following a rebellion last month by 31 Conservative MPs.

The rebellion slashed the government’s majority of 80 to just 15 amid accusations of “dirty tricks” by ministers to scupper an earlier amendment by the upper chamber to give the courts a role in deciding whether trade deals can go ahead.

The latest change tabled by the human rights campaigner Lord Alton of Liverpool would establish a parliamentary panel of judicial experts that could determine whether any proposed signatory to a trade agreement with the UK had committed genocide.

Ministers have opposed the move arguing it would “blur the distinction between courts and parliament” while the response to concerns over genocide in relation to trade policy was ultimately a “political question”.

However they face growing unrest on the Tory benches among MPs concerned about China’s treatment of its Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.

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